Practicing law is in part about building and maintaining trusting relationships with clients and a key element of building these relationships is providing clear, accurate bills. At first this might seem a little odd – clients don’t seek out legal advice to get billed after all! But opaque bills that leave the client feeling taken advantage of or worse can sour a relationship quickly. For firms of all sizes, transparent billing from initial engagement to final payment is a foundational element of building a relationship with a positive client.
Legal billing tools have revolutionized how law firms work with their clients. These tools have made it much easier for lawyers to record the time they spend working on a client’s matter and have made the process of generating a bill more seamless. Having one, single time entry and billing platform centralizes tasks that otherwise would require maintaining multiple systems.
What to Think About
The time and billing technologies on the legal tech market have beadily improving as law firm customers require more sophisticated functionality. Choosing a besteen st-fit tool involves firms assessing their needs and the technology they already own and use. When considering whether to purchase a time and billing systems and assessing the market, think of this software as client relationship tool – how will this tool improve the firm’s relationships with its clients? From there, consider the logistical elements of how the tool will integrate with the firm’s internal processes (e.g., staffing, billing practices). Finally, have a plan for adoption. As discussed on this blog, forming an adoption plan is every bit as important as choosing the right tool.
Time and billing software can offer many different functionality options. What are the essential elements to consider? The answer is, of course, it depends. But there are some core functions that every system will (or should!) provide. Here is a quick overview of some of these core functions and what to look for when evaluating tools.
Time Entry: Tracking attorney time is a fundamental function of every law firm, especially those that use the billable hour to charge clients. As discussed at length on this blog, efficient timekeeping is fundamental for law firm financial success. The good news is that there are many mature timekeeping tools on the market, like Accurate Legal Billing (ALB), that allow lawyers to keep time electronically making contemporaneous timekeeping simple. Many tools offer mobile apps for lawyers practicing on the go, removing another common barrier to getting submitted.
Looking to the future, there are some tools emerging that track how an attorney is working on their law firm’s systems (email, document processing, document management, etc.) and logs these efforts in the firm’s billing system automatically. While systems need lots more development, will likely be too costly for most firms to implement in the near-term, and maybe too much like Big Brother for current workplace sensibilities, time tracking software developers recognize that this is a major challenge facing lawyers and law firms and are seeking to make this process more efficient and accurate.
Personalized, accurate bills: Any e-billing software worth investing in will offer white label billing capabilities that allow firms to generate customize bills. The time and energy that the bill generation process used to require is no longer an issue with systems that can save templates and preferences. The less time attorneys need to spend on generating and formatting bills, the more time is available for client work. This process alone can save hours of time each month and has been a significant boost for law firm productivity.
OCG compliance: It is widely reported that outside counsel guidelines (OCGs) are on the rise and becoming more and more complicated. Managing OCGs is fast becoming a major administrative task for law firms. Sophisticated timekeeping and billing tools, like ALB are designed to take client preferences and requirements into consideration, guiding lawyers. For example, ALB can store client preferences on what can be billed and what the client will not pay for. With this data in the system, ALB can help the billing attorney avoid using wording that will result in a rejected e-bill. The e-bill rejection rate is on the rise, but using a timekeeping and billing tool like ALB can help avoid costly mistakes.
Reporting and dashboards: Law firm leaders need access to firm financial data in a digestible format that is conducive to decision-making. Aggregating data into a dashboard is a popular way to do this. ALB provides a comprehensive, customizable dashboard that can be utilized in a variety of ways to leverage financial data to improve law firm performance. Using this dashboard, firm leaders can evaluate attorney leverage, spot billing inaccuracies, identify process inefficiencies, dive into high-performing practices and make decisions on under-performing lines of work, among many other possible uses. A good financials dashboard can be an indispensable law firm management tool and has come about because of the rise of e-billing and timekeeping software.
Building Client Relationships
Timekeeping and billing software can be a critical piece of a law firm’s ability to build a trusting relationship with its clients. By injecting transparency into the billing process and then producing bills without the need for lots of corrections caused by not following OCGs or by poor timekeeping, clients can pay for services quickly, without irritation. Law firms should keep in mind that investing in a timekeeping and e-billing tool might on its face appear to be a firm management decision but used properly, it can be much more than that.
Technology is changing the way firm’s function in a variety of ways. One of the most fundamental and revolutionary ways technology is changing law firms is through how firms track the work they do for their clients, a function at the very core of client service. Clients are making the choice for law firms clear, even if a bit scary: embrace the change or risk getting dropped as outside counsel. If your firm has not explored the offerings in this area of legal tech, contact ALB for a demonstration and a discussion of how these tools can fit your practice.